Pro Tips for Enjoying the Pensacola Beach Air Show
By Katie King
It’s a decades-old Pensacola tradition.
Red, White and Blues Week is a continued celebration stemming from the Fourth of July on Pensacola Beach.
Every year, tens of thousands of people – locals and visitors alike – migrate to Pensacola Beach to watch the spectacle of our hometown heroes, the Blue Angels, performing mouth-dropping aerial stunts in their blue and gold F/A-18 Super Hornets jets over our sugar-white sands and emerald-green water.
Maneuvers like the Diamond Dirty Loop, the Double Farvel, the Vertical Pitch, the Fleur-de-Lis, the Opposing Knife-Edge pass, and the crowd-favorite Sneak Pass – these are just a few of the mind-blowing displays of choreographed precision flying the Navy flight demonstration team has perfected over the past 70 years.
In many ways, this annual beach air show has become a rite of passage for locals. So, naturally, you’ll want to experience the Pensacola Beach Air Show too when it takes to the skies on July 13 and 14.
But before you decide to pick up and head out there for the day, here are a few insider tips from some local air show vets to help you maximize the fun:
- Want to avoid the crowds but still see the Blues perform their act from start to finish? Go on Thursday. The Blue Angels fly a full practice show over Pensacola Beach at 2 p.m. Thursday. Of course, you’ll be missing the fantastic civilian stunt planes that perform for Friday and Saturday’s show, but you won’t have to battle the massive crowds.
- Why drive when you can travel in style instead? The new Pensacola Bay ferry serviceis extending its hours and lowering ticket prices Friday and Saturday to help ease vehicle congestion during the show. The ferries will depart from downtown Pensacola to Pensacola Beach every two hours starting at 7 a.m.
- If you insist on driving to the Friday or Saturday air show – CARPOOL and ARRIVE EARLY. Like really, really early. Make like you’re going sunrise fishing, early. We cannot stress this point enough. Traffic coming over the bridge can often take hours if you wait too late to leave, and the Casino Beach parking lot often is filled up by 6 a.m. So plan on packing up and heading out in the wee morning hours to avoid the traffic jam getting onto the island and find a decent parking spot.
- Do yourself a favor and get a SunPass. You can pick one up at CVS, Publix or Walgreens for about $5, and have the advantage of using the no-stop SunPass lane to get onto the island. But don’t forget to activate it online first!
- If the Casino Beach parking lot is full Saturday, trolleys are in service all day to help take people to and from Casino Beach. So park and hop on a free trolley.
- The prime spot to view the show is at center point, just east of the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier at Casino Beach. Tents are allowed, but please be courteous to your new daylong neighbors.
- It’s going to be a looong day in the sun. So pack accordingly and stay hydrated! Bring the essentials – bring plenty of water, snacks, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. You’ll also want to include an umbrella, beach chairs, towels, floaties, and a cooler. But remember, glass is not allowed on the beach!
- Please don’t bring Fido with you, or any other pets for that matter. Dogs are only allowed at the two designated dog beaches on either side of the island, neither of which are a great vantage point for the air show. Pets are not allowed anywhere else. And any person found leaving a pet unattended in a vehicle may face criminal charges.
- For the safety of all spectators and air show participants, the Santa Rosa Island Authority is requiring the public suspend all flights of unmanned aircraft, or drones, during the air show hours of the Pensacola Beach Air Show week.
- There are plenty of vendors on hand selling all the forgotten essentials, plus food, drinks, souvenirs, etc.
- Recruitment stations will be set up around center point, with informational materials for all the military branches. Take a break from the heat by checking out the new U.S. Army Mobile Usability Lab Exhibit (MULE) – a climate-controlled 18-wheel tractor trailer featuring a state-of-the-art virtual reality exhibit. It’s not to be missed.
- The civilian stunt plane acts begin just before noon. Lifeguards keep all beachgoers out of the Gulf while the show is happening overhead. The civilian acts last for about an hour or so, from noon to 1 p.m.
- After the civilian acts finish, go take a dip in the Gulf! This will be your last chance to cool off before the Blues take to the sky at 2 p.m.
- Lifeguards are on hand to provide any needed first-aid help. Mist stations are set up next to the public safety building and restrooms, for anyone needing to cool off quickly.
- Once the air show ends, believe us when we say you won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Instead of folding up your chairs and packing up your tents in a mad dash to go get stuck in beach traffic, rather, sit back and enjoy the beautiful view, sharing stories about your favorite maneuvers.
- When it’s time to pack up and leave, remember: Please Leave Only Your Footprints Behind! For the safety and enjoyment of all Pensacola Beach visitors and the preservation of the island’s flora and fauna, please take all that you came with and help keep our beach pristine.
We hope these tips help you prepare for a safe, patriotic and fun-filled Red, White and Blues Week!